Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

   2012; 287 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Magical Realism  (one of Amazon’s designations, and I kinda like the term).  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    For Clay Jannon, any job is better than no job at all.  And while no one working in a bookstore ever gets rich quick, it is kind of a neat place to pass the time.

    The hours suck though.  Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is open 24 hours a day, and Clay is unfortunate enough to draw the midnight to 8:00 AM shift.  OTOH, how many customers are going to wander in at three in the morning?

    However, the few nocturnal patrons that do show up are a curious bunch.  First, they treat the bookstore like a library: they “borrow” some very obscure books, and it’s always with utmost urgency.  Second, they all seem to borrow the same few books.  It’s almost like they know each other.  And third, if you peek inside those books, they’re all in gobbledygook.  No words, just random letters.

    Hey, maybe Clay Jannon has stumbled onto a den of spies ending each other coded messages via those books!  After all, Mr. Penumbra told him not to look inside the tomes.  Or maybe they’re a bunch of nut cases, who are under the delusion they’re reading words from random letters.  In any case, it’s worth investigating further.

    But prudently, Clay.  After all, we can’t afford to lose this job now, can we?

What’s To Like...
    Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a phenomenally popular bestseller.  It's garnered more than 2,000 reviews at Amazon, and is one of their Top 10,000 sellers, despite being almost 3½ years old. The Goodreads stats are even more insane – over 19,000 reviews and more than 118,000 ratings.  That’s a lot of readers & buyers of this book.

    The settings are a bibliophile’s delight.  Most of the story takes place in two bookstores/libraries.  The plotline is heavy on the intrigue and light on the action.  This usually makes for a dull read, but Robin Sloan’s writing style is engaging, and the characters he creates are richly 3-D.  This may be an easy read, but it’s also a fun read.

     It helps if, like me, you’re a techno-geek.  There are numerous plugs for geeky things, such as XKCD, Wall.E, Google, Kindles (and other forms of e-readers), Jackson Pollock, the blue screen of death, and Visicalc.  Jeez, I haven’t thought of that last one in decades, and once upon a time it was the cat’s meow of spreadsheets.

    You’ll also learn a lot about a fascinating man named Aldus Manutius, who is real (wiki him; I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this guy), and the Gerritszoon font, which is not.  My Gnostics get a brief mention, that’s always a plus.  Other neat things : Matropolis, GrumbleGear, the Waybacklist, Singularity Singles (speed dating for nerds), and OK/TK.

    The book was shorter than I expected, and is told from a first-person POV (Clay’s).  This is a standalone novel, with ANAICT no sequel, although there is a 60-page prequel, giving Mr. Penumbra’s backstory, for $2.99, which seems steep to me, but I suppose is to be expected for a novella by a top-tier author.  This is why I don’t read Amazon singles.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Colophon (n.) :  a publisher’s emblem or imprint, especially one on the title page or spine of a book,
Others : Proscenium (n.)

    “I did not know people your age still read books,” Penumbra says.  He raises an eyebrow.  “I was under the impression they read everything on their mobile phones.”
    “Not everyone.  There are plenty of people who, you know– people who still like the smell of books.”
    “The smell!” Penumbra repeats.  “You know you are finished when people start talking about the smell!”  He smiles at that – then something occurs to him, and he narrows his eyes.  “I do not suppose you have a … Kindle?”  (loc. 873)

   Kat gushes about Google’s projects, all revealed to her now.  They are making a 3-D web browser.  They are making a car that drives itself.  They are making a sushi search engine – here she pokes a chopstick down at our dinner – to help people find fish that is sustainable and mercury-free.  They are building a time machine.  They are developing a form of renewable energy that runs on hubris.  (loc. 2898)

 Fingers of thought are raking the space behind the cushions, looking for loose ideas, finding nothing.  (pg. 43)
    The writing is superb, the character-development is top-notch, and I’m not the type that needs someone to die in a book that I’m reading.  So why not a higher rating?  Well, if you brush aside all the good stuff, you discover that the storyline itself is hit-and-miss. 

    Clay “breaks” the initial code by discovering that the patrons make a strange pattern if you plot their comings and goings in the bookstore in 3-D.  However, you subsequently find that it’s pretty …erm… meaningless.  Mr. Penumbra and his cohorts are waiting for something, and whether it’s God, Godot, or something else is a fascinating enigma.  But the ending falls flat.  

    There’s a rather nice epilogue to the story, about the various characters and what happens to them, but honestly, I thought it would’ve been more powerful if those details were fleshed out and incorporated as part of the ending itself.

    But the plusses outweigh the minuses, and I’m always partial to a story that makes you wonder through most of the book whether the cause of the oddities are natural or supernatural phenomena.

   7½ Stars.  Subtract 1 star if you find any book without at least a couple thrills and spills to be somewhat of a tedious read.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Gideon's Corpse - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

   2012; 449 pages.  Book #2 (out of 4) of the Gideon Crew series.  New Authors? : No.  Genre : Action-Adventure; Thriller.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    Things couldn’t get any worse.  One of Gideon’s fellow nuclear scientists goes crazy, taking a family hostage in New York City, and Gideon, who’s in the city at the time, is asked to assist in the stand-off negotiations.

    Alas, the coworker is delusional, claiming that he’s been a test rat subjected to all sorts of radiation experiments, perpetrated by all sorts of evil people, and that Gideon is in cahoots with them.  There’s only one way this hostage situation can resolve itself.

    But the investigation in the aftermath reveals that radiation did indeed play a part in the ordeal.  A plume of it hovers above a nearby warehouse.  There’s evidence of a nuclear bomb having been made there, and apparently the hostage-taker actually suffered a massive exposure to the radiation during its construction.  Serves him right, since he just recently converted to Islam, and was undoubtedly a jihadist.

    Ah, but the bomb and the other baddies are gone, and it seems they are intent on detonating it 10 days from now, somewhere in the United States.

    Well, I guess things can get worse after all.

What’s To Like...
    The action starts immediately, and the thrills and spills run rampant throughout the final page.  The chapters are short, so there’s always a good point to stop.  The settings are comfortable, and, for me at least, familiar: New York City, New Mexico, and Washington DC.  Gideon’s somewhat reluctant partner, Special FBI Agent Stone Fordyce, is kinda kewl.

    If you liked the first book in this series (reviewed here), then you’ll be equally happy with Gideon’s Corpse.  Ditto if you’re a Dirk Pitt fan; I still get the impression that Preston and Child are trying to horn in on the Clive Cussler reading market with this series.  It should be noted that the book’s title has no relevance to the storyline that I could fathom.

    There’s lots of cussing in the book, and a couple of sex scenes.  Every woman that crosses Gideon’s path seems to eventually end up in the sack with him.  Fortunately, there’s only one female lead here, and her relationship with Gideon would be listed as “complicated” if she were on Facebook.

    Gideon’s Corpse is a fast, easy read.  Most of the characters are paper-thin, ideal for reading on an airplane or at the beach.  It has a standalone storyline, which I always like when reading a series.  Finally, I liked the crowd-control tactic on page 27, called “kettling”.  I first ran across this term just a few books ago.

Kewlest New Word ...
Raddled (adj.) : showing signs of age or fatigue.  (curiously, there’s no root verb “raddle” for this meaning; it only exists in the past tense as a modifier).
Others : Desuetude (n.); Dissembling (v.)

    “Didn’t it seem strange to you that he converted to Islam?”
    “Not at all.  When we were married, he used to drag me to the Zen center for meditations, to the pseudo-Indian Native American Church meetings, EST, Scientology, the Moonies – you name it, he tried it.”
    “So he was sort of a spiritual seeker.”
    “That’s a nice way of putting it.  He was a pain in the ass.”  (pg. 147)

    (H)e had to do something about the man downstairs.
    He watched the man for a while.  The man didn’t look sleepy, he wasn’t drinking, and – what unnerved Gideon most of all – he was reading James Joyce’s Ulysses.  This man was no dumb hick cowboy.  The outfit was all show.  This was a sophisticated and intelligent person who would not be easily fooled.  (pg. 290)

 “Oh *now* I get it. … Investigating with your glands, I see.”  (pg. 188)
    I’m a big fan of Preston & Child’s Agent Pendergast books, but I have to say that Gideon Crew is shallow and over-the-top compared to Aloysius.  He’s never wrong, has amazing talents (here, his previously unrevealed background in fencing comes in handy), and has a nerdy machismo that continues to make any and all females drool.

    But the main problem I have with the series are the WTF’s.

    Gideon just happens to be in New York City when a coworker from New Mexico goes postal just a short distance away.  What are the odds?  In one of the many chase scenes, a hand car in an abandoned mine just luckily has some blasting caps in it.  The baddies sabotage an small airplane that Fordyce and Gideon are flying in, both engines flame out, and yet both agents are able to walk away from the landing.  Curiously, they don't think to go back and find the saboteur, they just continue on their merry way.  When it's Gideon with a pistol shooting it out with a team of spec ops guys in a helicopter with fully automatic weapons, who do you think wins?  Yep, you guessed it.

    6 StarsGideon’s Corpse is a better read than Gideon’s Sword, but just barely.  If Gideon Crew ever teamed up with Dirk Pitt, they could probably exterminate all of the evil-doers in the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Game of Battleships - Toby Frost

    2013; 320 pages.  Book Four  (out of 5) in the Space Captain Smith series  New Author? : No.  Genre : Sci-Fi Spoof; Space Opera.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    The cosmos needs saving!  Again.

    The forces of Evil: The Yull, the Lemming Men, the ant-like Ghasts, and the religiously-loco Edenites have joined forces, albeit uneasily, to conquer the galaxy and rid it of all that is good, including the British Space Empire and its tea.

    The good guys can use all the help they can get, even from the incredibly advanced, but creepily non-corporeal Vorl.  They’ve arranged a peace conference to attempt to sway the Vorl to their side, and the number one fear is an incursion by the bad guys, especially since it seems that one of the baddies has developed a lethal spaceship with a super-effective cloaking device.  And said warship just mauled a convoy of space freighters that was being protected by our hero, Captain Isambard Smith.

    Hey, Smith.  How’d you like to get another crack at that cloaked-up dreadnaught?

    Yes, we thought so.

What’s To Like...
    After a four-year hiatus following Book 3 (reviewed here), reportedly to successfully pursue a law degree, Toby Frost comes back with another solid addition to the Space Captain Smith series.  All of Smith’s crew are here, including the M’Lak headhunter Suruk, the android pilot Polly Carveth, the 25th-century flower-child Rhianna, and my favorite MacGuffin, Gerald the hamster.  Ditto for everyone from the British spy cadre – Major Wainscott, “W”, Susan, and bounty hunter extraordinaire Rick Dreckitt.

    Frost also introduces us to a bunch of new characters, among them Captain Felicity Fitzroy (look out, Rhianna!) and the mysterious and charismatic Le Fantome.  Quite a few new peeps are thrown at the reader at the start of the book, but I think that’s a plus in that it shows that the author isn’t just rehashing past tales. 

    There are three main plotlines.  Smith chases the cloaked warship; Wainscott protects the peace conference, and the baddies make plans to disrupt it.  Everything converges seamlessly.  The Ghasts are back, but they play a lesser role here, which I thought was a good move.  It’s always kewl to do battle with new Black Hats.

    A Game of Battleships is written in English, as opposed to “American”, and that always makes for entertaining reading.  There’s a slew of puns, and plays-on-words, which is the main reason I love this series.  A bunch of these involved the French language (“someone regretting Ryan”), which was an added treat.  I also liked the various tips-of-the-hat, including ones to Kraftwerk, Asterix, and Dave-&-Hal, they of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame.

    There really aren’t any slow spots, which is a Toby Frost trademark.  A Game of Battleships is a standalone novel, as well Book 4 of what appears to be a 5-volume series.  See Kindle Details, below.

Kewlest New Word...
Nobble (v.) : to obtain dishonestly; to steal.  (informal, a Britishism)
Others : Aspidistra (n.); Scrumpy (n.); Smalls (n., plural, a Britishism, informal); Lidar (n.).

    “Status report, revised,” she announced.  “We’re stuffed.”  She closed the logbook and sat down.
    “Any details?” Smith asked.
    “Alright then.  Basically, I’d say we’ve passed the stage of being merely inconvenienced and are now moving into the realm of being totally buggered.  Should the buggeration continue, I’m anticipating us losing not just paddle but canoe very shortly, leaving us floundering helplessly in the filthy rapids of a certain malodorous creek.”  (loc. 397)

    “Many years ago, when I was a mere spawn, impressionable and technically incapable of criminal responsibility, the elders of my tribe told me of a land beyond the great waterfall that plummets over the cliffs of Bront.  He who recited the correct charm and then leaped through the waters, would emerge in a land of wonders.  So I travelled for nine days, until the waters were in sight.
    Speaking the charm, I sprang through the waterfall.”
    ”What did you see?”
    “Stars, Mazuran.  I knocked myself out on the cliff.  The elders were lying through their mandibles.”  (loc. 2826)

Kindle Details...
    A Game of Battleships sells for $4.99 at Amazon.  The other four books in the series go for $4.99-$7.99.  The latest book in the series, End of Empires, was published in 2014.  I suspect it is the series’ finale.  Toby Frost issued Straken, the first e-book in a new series called Astra Militarum in 2016, and co-wrote a second book, titled eponymously, in that series last year as well.  But they are both only available for the Kindle at Amazon-UK, and neither has garnered any reviews yet.  Straken is available at Amazon as a paperback, but it goes for $16.00.  There are no reviews for that version either.

“Do you know Beethoven’s Ninth?”  “Really?  At what?”  (loc. 777)
    The ending was good, but not great.  It had an interesting twist to it, but I felt like I’d seen it used before in other stories, and it seemed a somewhat awkward fit here. 

    The big problem with A Game of Battleships is the formatting.  Typos abound, especially of two types: possessives and words with double L’s.  I tend to blame the publisher, Myrmidon Books, not the author for this.  Since my library carries the first three books in this series, I presume Toby Frost did not self-publish this.

    One typo that deserves special mention was the word “teachest”.  This should of course be two words: “tea chest” (but maybe it’s a single word in “British-speak”?), yet my mind kept trying to make it the superlative form of the word “teach”.  Talk about a brain freeze.

    It reminded me of a book I read years ago, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (reviewed here), which contained the presumably valid word mambaskin”.  Which means the skin of a certain snake.  But my brain kept trying to make it “mam baskin”, evidently a weird flavor at our local ice cream parlor.  Needless to say, this also resulted in a brain fart.

    7½ Stars.  If you liked the first three books in the series, you’ll not be disappointed in this one.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Elantris - Brandon Sanderson

   2005; 615 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Epic Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Alas, Elantris!  Once upon a time, it was truly a golden city.  Magic flowed freely within its limits, and among all of its citizens, who were held to be gods, and revered for their healing touch.  If you lived elsewhere, and were very fortunate, the Shaod (the “Transformation”) would fall upon you and you’d be instantly transported to Elantris to live a new and glorious life as one of them.

    But something happened ten years ago.  The Shaod no longer exists.  Now, if you are very unfortunate, the Reod (“the Punishment”) will fall upon you and you’ll be banished to live within the black, grimy , death-filled gates of Elantris.  There is no cure for the Reod, nor any protection against it.  It strikes instantly, without warning, and without distinction.  Anyone might wake up one morning with hair falling out, and black splotches covering his or her skin.

   Even a royal prince.

What’s To Like...
    There are three main characters in Elantris: Prince Raoden of Arelon, Princess Sarene of Teod, and the Derethi high priest Hrathen.  For most of the book, the chapters rotate among the POV’s of this trio, and each has a different “slant”.  The Raoden chapters are mostly Action-oriented.  The Sarene chapters focus on courtly Intrigue.  The Hrathen chapters give some keen insight on the squabblings of Religion.  All three are expertly penned, and the varying themes keep the storytelling from bogging down. 

   There are a slew of supporting characters, all phenomenally developed; and a bunch of secondary storylines to keep you on your toes.  I found the theological debates between Hrathen and Sarene fascinating; and Harthen’s protégé, Dilaf, is a kewl study of “zealous evangelism”.  There is also a lot of wit and humor, such as Sarene’s (lack of) artistic talent.

    I liked the magic system, which is centered around glyph-like “Aons”, and which reminded me of my Mandarin Chinese classes from years ago.  Stroke order and perfect sizing of the glyphs are important, and there’s a handy glossary in the back of the book, giving a bunch of the basic Aon patterns.

    The world-building is somewhat limited, considering this is a 600-page Epic Fantasy opus.  For most of the story, our protagonists are confined to the titular city of Elantris, and its adjoining city, Kae.  The scene then shifts to Sarene’s home kingdom, Teod, for an exciting climax.  The last hundred pages or so are constant action, but overall, I found Elantris to be a character-driven tale, and superbly done in that respect.  I did end up caring about what happened to our three protagonists.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Caliginous (adj.) : misty; dim; obscure; dark.
Others : Revertiss (n., and a word Sanderson invented).

    Raoden shook his head.  “Galladon, that is just a tiny part of it.  No one accomplishes anything in Elantris – they’re all either too busy squabbling over food or contemplating their misery.  The city needs a sense of purpose.”
    “We’re dead, sule,” Galladon said.  “What purpose can we have besides suffering?”
    “That’s exactly the problem.  Everyone’s convinced that their lives are over just because their hearts stopped beating.”
    “That’s usually a pretty good indication, sule,” Galladon said dryly.  (pg. 123)

    Roial chuckled, and Sarene followed his gaze.  Shuden and Torena spun near the center of the dance floor, completely captivated by one another.
    “What are you laughing about?” Sarene asked, watching the fire-haired girl and the young Jindo.
    “It is one of the great joys of my old age to see young men proven hypocrites,” Roial said with an evil smile.  “After all those years swearing that he would never let himself be caught – after endless balls spent complaining when women fawned over him – his heart, and his mind, have turned to mush as surely as any other man’s.”
    “You’re a mean old man, Your Grace.”
    "And that is the way it should be,” Roial informed.  “Mean young men are trivial, and kindly old men boring.  Here, let me get us something to drink.”  (pg. 398)

 Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.  (pg. 1, and the opening line in the book.)
    The quibbles are minor.  The key to removing the curse from Elantris seemed a bit less-than-epic, but at least it wasn’t the banal “find the Ultimate Artifact and deliver/destroy it” solution.  I felt like there was a continuity issue with one of the Elantrian gang leaders, Shaor.  She is identified as being Lord Telrii’s daughter on page 309, yet that never factors into the storyline.  Did the author change his mind as to how to resolve her?

    My biggest quibble is with the number of loose threads the Brandon Sanderson never ties up.  Galladon’s hidden past remains …well… hidden.  The military threat to the kingdom of Arelon is still there, not in the least bit diminished.  Kiin and Eventeo have some interpersonal issues to overcome  And the question of which sect - the Korathi or the Derethi – are blessed with the theologically-correct interpretation of god, is definitely open for further debate and bloodshed.

    All these loose ends scream to be resolved in a sequel, and according to Wikipedia, Brandon Sanderson has promised one.  However, he followed up Elantris with the fabulous Mistborn trilogy (reviewed here, here, and here), and then got the task of finishing up the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  So he has been rather busy of late.

    Still, one can only hope that the sequel to Elantris will eventually be written.

    9 Stars.  Subtract ½ star if you were hoping for a hack-&-slash story.  It’s there, but you have to wait a while for it.  It is worth the wait.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Trunk Music - Michael Connelly

   1997; 438 pages.  New Author? : No, but it's been a while.  Book 5 (out of 19) of the “Harry Bosch” series.  Genre : Murder-Mystery; Police Procedural.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    It seems pretty obvious.  The victim was killed by two shots to the back of the head.  His hands had been bound behind his back, and he’d been stuffed into the trunk of his Rolls Royce prior to being executed.  This was clearly a case of trunk music (see excerpt, below, for what that is), a telltale sign that it was a Mafia hit.  It’s just a matter of figuring out which city’s mob did the dirty deed, and who exactly pulled the trigger.

    And yet a couple of the minor details don’t quite make sense.  For instance, whatever had been used to bind or cuff the victim’s hands was removed after the slaying.  So were his shoes.  Why would a hitman do that?

    Oh well, whatever the reason, Detective Harry Bosch will figure it out in his investigation.  But tread carefully, Harry.  Sometimes the biggest obstacles to solving a case aren’t the bad guys.

    It’s your fellow law enforcement agents.

What’s To Like...
    The action in Trunk Music starts immediately.  The book opens with Harry Bosch arriving at the scene of the crime, and things don’t slow down at all through the final page.  Harry divides his time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and Michael Connelly is obviously well-acquainted with these cities, as he gives detailed descriptions of Harry’s wanderings through both.

    The book was written in the 90’s, and it was neat to see some of the nostalgia from that decade.  American West Airlines is still in business, although Harry prefers to fly Southwest.  You use a VCR to watch videos, a teletype machine to send documents, and a “cellular phone” to call people.  I also liked Connelly’s tip-of-the-hat to the book “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

    This is both a police procedural and a crime-thriller.  The “whodunit” portion gets resolved at around 70%, and then the book kicks into Action-Intrigue for the rest of the way.  Plot twists abound; so do red herrings; and I liked it that Harry could reach wrong conclusions at times.  He can also be a bit of an a**hole, which is kinda neat.

    There’s a goodly amount of cussing, which would be expected in this type of story; and some sex.  The chapters are long, and of uneven length.  This is a standalone story, although a couple characters, Eleanor Wish and Roy Lindell, who appear in other books in the series, show up here.  The Kindle version ends at 88%, with the rest of the e-book devoted to a preview of the next book in the series.

    “You said he was put in his trunk and capped twice, huh? . . . Bosch, you there?”
    “Yeah, I’m here.  Yeah, capped twice in the trunk.”
    “Trunk music.”
    “It’s a wise guy saying outta Chicago.  You know, when they whack some poor slob they say, ‘Oh, Tony?  Don’t worry about Tony.  He’s trunk music now.  You won’t see him no more’”  (loc. 394)

    “Harry, you want the swag on this?”
    “Scientific wild ass guess.”  (loc. 468)

Kindle Details...
    Trunk Music presently sells for $6.99 at Amazon right now.  The other books in the series are all in the price range of $4.99 to $9.99.  

 “Kenahepyou?”  (loc. 588)
    The quibbles are few.  At one point, while searching a suspect’s home, Harry discovers a potential murder weapon, sealed in a plastic bag, hidden behind the toilet.  He’s excited because it’s another piece of evidence to tie the suspect to the crime.  But I was thinking, “Harry!  For cripes sake, the perp would never keep something like that around.  Someone planted it there!  Don’t even touch it!”

    Also, the ending, although suitably replete with excitement, felt a bit contrived.  There’s a lot riding on one of Harry’s hunches, including a whole slew of cops.  If Harry’s wrong, they’re gonna kick themselves for not staking out other possible sites.  Things work out of course, and Harry’s proven right.  But all the baddies get taken care of in a manner that felt just a tad too convenient.

    But hey, by then the plotline was Action-Intrigue, not Police Procedural, and it made for a thrilling climax.  So I’m not complaining.

    9 Stars.  For me, Trunk Music was a great page-turner.   My only question after finishing it was whether or not all the “bending of the rules” that Harry (and some of his colleagues) get away with really do occur in the real world.  If so, it makes me wonder if we’re closer to living in a police state than we realize.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Doctor Who - The Wheel of Ice - Stephen Baxter

   2012; 339 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Episodic Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Times are tough at the Mnemosyne Cincture, a mining operation on one of Saturn’s moons.  The parent company, Bootstrap, Inc., is not pleased with the falling profits, nor at the delays in getting the precious Bernalium ore from there to Earth.  Equipment keeps coming up missing, and sabotage is suspected. Then there are the hallucinations that the younger children claim to be seeing, which they’ve labeled the “Blue Dolls”.

    But something down there has attracted the attention of the TARDIS, and that means that the police box that is not a police box, along with its passengers - Doctor Who and his sidekicks, Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot - are about to be  transported there (and then), and get drawn into all the strange events and politics.

    Maybe our protagonists can straighten everything out there.  Or maybe they’ll bring about the end of the world.

What’s To Like...
    Full disclosure: While I’m vaguely aware of the (British) television series “Doctor Who” and its cult following, I’ve never watched an episode of it, and had no idea exactly what the TARDIS was when I bought this book.  It caught my eye primarily because its author, Stephen Baxter, is one of my favorite sci-fi writers.

    The three protagonists – the Doc, Zoe, and Jamie – are all well-developed and fun to meet.  This apparently is set in the “Doctor Who #2” timeline, which will mean something to fans of the series.  The pacing is brisk, and the storyline sufficiently complex to keep my interest.  The chapters are short and there are some kewl “Interludes” interspersed throughout the book.  Doctor Who – Wheel of Ice is written in English, not American, and I'm always partial to that.

    The main storyline – the mystery surrounding the Blue Dolls – was engaging, although not particularly twisty.  Beyond that. there were a couple of interrelated themes running  through the book.  The first – when is a species sentient enough to where we coexist with them instead of eating them? – is fairly common for the sci-fi genre.  But the other – does Artificial Sentience have any inherent rights? – was a new (to me, at least) and fascinating concept.

    The ending is good enough, although I found it to be a bit too convenient when the Ultimate Evil got her just desserts.  I liked the tip-of-the-hat to one of my favorite classics – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  I also enjoyed the catchphrases – “Resilience, Remembrance, Restoration”, “Community, Identity, Stability”, and my personal favorite “It’s good to be a B!”

Kewlest New Word ...
Cludgie (n.) : a toilet or bathroom (a Scotticism).
Others: Nous (n.; British); Swotting (v.; British); Allohistorical (adj.); Kettling (v.).

    “Surely this ship has an automated defence system!”
    “Oh, Zoe, of course it has.  But if it wasn’t disabled, don’t you think I’d have activated it by now?”
    “I have been meaning to get around to looking into it ...”   (pg. 13)

    Every day started with a decision: which end of the makeshift colony’s shabby little recycling plant to visit first.  The plant was a rough row of hoppers and processing machines, white boxes joined end to end by pipes and ducts, all the components pinched by Sam and his cronies from Utilities up on the Wheel.  You did your personal business at one end, and then let the engines process the waste, extracting nutrients and adding Titan meltwater and tholin chemicals to flavour.  And out the other end came breakfast, things like biscuits that weren’t biscuits, bowls of stuff like mushroom soup that wasn’t mushroom soup.  It was a little factory with a cludgie at one end and a soup dispenser at the other.  Charming.  (pg. 179)

“Isn’t this what life is for, granddad?  Skiing on a moon of Saturn!”  (pg. 91 )
    Although he did a creditable job in penning Doctor Who – The Wheel of Ice, I don’t think anyone is going to call this Stephen Baxter’s finest literary effort.  This is not his fault; it is inherent to the nature of the undertaking.

    Overall, the story reads like a television script.  Think of any episode from, say, one of the Star Trek series.  Fun, entertaining, but hardly epic.  And the makers of the Doctor Who series certainly would want nothing that would outshine their BBC series.  So perhaps these sort of constraints were imposed upon Stephen Baxter going into the project.  I felt the same thing when I recently watched the “Rogue One” Star Wars movie.  It was enjoyable, but I felt like it was taking care not to steal the spotlight from Episodes 1-7.

     This is not a complaint.  I came away with a better understanding of the Doctor Who cosmos, and DW-TWoI kept my interest from beginning to end.  But it can’t compare to some of Baxter’s major novels, such as Evolution or the Manifold trilogy.

    8 Stars.  Add 1 Star if you’re already familiar with the Doctor Who universe.  And even if, like me, you’re a Doctor Who newbie, it's a nice way to learn the basics of the series.